TEPID TAKE: The Reboot

Okay, let’s just take a step back to process the craziness about what the NHL rolled out Tuesday in regards to ending the 2019-20 season. I won’t get into the Draft Lottery too much because…well, I need a team of scientist to decipher it. But the reboot of the season– this is something that’s been polarizing with a good amount of people on the “what are you thinking side of things” for one reason or another.

Before it’s started, the biggest thing is that this can all be dissolved by the players, who will need to collectively bargain this roll out. If they say no, then it’s done and you can’t blame them because even with the NHL saying they’ve got enough kits to test every day…still some people are going to be apprehensive, rightfully so; especially with the failures of some tests and testing labs.

In any case, the regular season is done in the biblical sense. The NHLPA still said that the “qualification” rounds may have stats count towards the regular season totals before the post-season totals count. It’s a bit odd considering that it’s a playoff scenario, but not really a playoff since other teams are playing for positioning at the top of the table– but let’s not let that get in the way of a confusing roll-out.

Hub Cities (TM) are still to be determined with 10 finalists being there and waiting like it was an Olympic bid or American Idol. That’s going to be more interesting than how to figure out the draft lottery. I’m sure any city will be great to hold it in, though with no fans and probably players not going out on the town– doesn’t really matter outside of the facilities that those cities will bolster for the players.

I’ve been on the fence between doing a 31-team tournament to shutting the whole thing down. As we sit here with a 24-team format, I’m more okay with it. Nothing to do about being a completionist, but if you believe the NHL in having enough tests and saying the test will be every day….why not get it done?? There’s going to be some people upset the NHL got those tests, but if they bought it through legit means– very little to be done; just ask Larry Hogan about buying tests for the betterment of his state. Sure, the next season will be super late on the calendar and lack on because of the 82-game format they’re hoping for– but if there’s a chance to play, why not take it out for a spin??

The Draft Lottery is more convoluted because there’s two phases which include the teams that don’t advance in the play-in round. How the NHL couldn’t have just gone with the seven teams that didn’t make it be in the lottery and then the rest fall as they may– much like the other seasons when it comes to the Draft….but that’s too easy. Gotta mix it up, gotta go outside the box.

There’s A LOT to be done still. Like I said, if at any point the NHLPA feels slighted, then they can nix this deal and the whole thing is dead in the water. I don’t think anyone would fault them for it like it were some kind of labor strife. This decision can either go really right and nothing bad happens and people panicked over nothing though they were justified in doing so at the time. It could also go very sideways, very quickly and the NHL and NHLPA look like fools for rushing back in just to do so.

If nothing else– it’s making for a wonderful story to be told in a future “30 For 30.”

Remembering the Reebok Edge Rollout

The Rbk EDGE Uniform System (Photo by Mike Fuentes/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

As I was going through YouTube, a clip came up from 2010 when the Flyers beat the Bruins after coming back from 0-3 down in the series. I didn’t think about the hilarious collapse of the Bruins, but more of how horrible those Flyers jerseys were. They came from the redesign of the NHL’s jerseys by Reebok and their Edge jersey system. Then I remembered the start of the roll out of those jerseys at the 2007 Draft in Columbus. With Reebok being the ultimate brand in the NHL, they needed to do something with the uniform system; especially after Nike came out with their Swift uniform system for the 2006 Turin Olympics (which had their own issues before the Games).

Before the big rollout, the NHL debuted the jerseys at the 2007 All-Star Game in Dallas– which happened to be the last time the NHL had a weekday ASG. The jerseys did away with the bulk air-knit jerseys of the past and make them more anatomical for the players, which was perfect for the new speed that the game had brought back post-lockout. Reebok touted the jerseys were 14% lighter and had moisture resistant technology, which absorbed 76% less moisture. There’s much more, including the core technology they had put together in this video here.

As for the rollout itself, it went team-by-team; though the NHL Draft hosts in Columbus debuted their look at the Draft itself, as did the Capitals There were some teams that did an entire overhaul– like the Capitals, Sharks, and Canucks; while other teams kind of fell into a templated nightmare with other teams. For instance, the Penguins, Senators, and Lightning used the same template as the All-Star jerseys; while the Predators, Oilers, and Panthers used their own template with the latter two having unnecessary piping on it. The piping was also noticed around the shoulder yoke of the Carolina Hurricanes, which stood out like a sore thumb. Not only that, but half the league went without the traditional bottom hem stripe on the jersey. The wide array can be found on the NHL Uniforms’ site.

Interestingly enough, the jerseys were starting to get leaked on the internet thanks to EA Sports putting out an unlock code for the game before teams officially put the jerseys out to the public. It was truly a fun time for people who were pining to see what their teams would do, but also a cringe time for some when their team underwhelmed in this situation.

I like to remember is how the first versions of these jerseys were trash. They only lasted about half a year before Reebok had to redo the whole thing because the first version was doing it’s job by repelling moisture…but into the gloves the players making sweat pool in their gloves. That made Reebok revert back a little to the airknit fabric and making them a bit less form fitting. We did have a glimpse into the look of the jersey, as the Ducks and Sabres each had a redesign in 2006-07 that was a format for what the new jerseys would look like with the collar being very pointed and where the NHL logo would appear on all the jerseys a season later.

Looking back, it was a huge step for the jersey era; especially with MSRP of jerseys going up because of the materials used. It was also a sigh of relief as rumors had the system using tucked in jerseys killing any kind of loose fit. The Edge system also was the start of the Icethetics website, where a lot of the leaks were posted for wider consumption.

The look itself may have turned off some people because it wasn’t traditional enough for them, but in the end; we all made it out and now move on with life in the Adizero era where the weight feels more like the older jerseys, which doesn’t seem to affect the play on the ice with the players.

Pushing Back The 2020-21 Season

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 12: A goal sits on the empty ice prior to the Detroit Red Wings playing against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on March 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775376586 ORIG FILE ID: 1212022895

According to Pierre LeBrun, the start of the 2020-21 season will be in December; accounting for the idea that the NHL season will resume in July like some people are hypothesizing. LeBrun said that the league would hope to have a full 82-game slate for the squads, but is there a chance that isn’t feasible.

It’s hard for everyone right now being without entertainment as their cooped up in the house in this Schrodinger world we’re living in, but you also have to look out for common sense. Money is going to be lost by the NHL because the odds are good that no fans will be allowed for whatever’s left for the 2019-20 season. Yet, the biggest thing to look at is the idea that players will be very worn out from the summer hockey and then however short the offseason is for them and then right into the next season in December. The start and stop aspect probably isn’t the most ideal, especially when the goal is a 82-game affair and everything that would give breaks would be scrapped to get back on schedule for everyone.

Now, of course, there’s plenty of red-tape that the league will need to get through in order to go through with their plan of finishing the current season. The border of Canada and the US is closed, so teams there would need to figure out how the hell to get out and play if they indeed get this whole thing started up again. Then you have to hope the proper testing is in place because one setback could ruin the entire rest of 2019-20, despite what Bill Daly may have said. You also have to wonder how keen the players are to fit all those games in what looks like it could be an 11-month window.

As much as I miss live hockey, the idea that we need to push for it to come back in the most uncertain of times seems very short-sighted, the business aspect be damned. What’s gained by getting back on the ice sooner than needed?? What’s gained by further pushing the players’ bodies by keeping the schedule for next year the same, while giving them much less off-time for said schedule and taxing their bodies even more?? Is it worth rushing things for this season and then condensing next season in order to not lose as much money?? These are the questions that need to be asked when you look at the entire scope of things.

If the NHL is rushing back just to get back, then it could be a high-risk, high reward situation. If it pays off, they look like geniuses for getting back when they did and plotting out things to get back on track by the 2021-22 season. If it stumbles and turns out to be the worst thing to happen to hockey– they might not hear the end of it. I don’t envy those making these decisions, but they can’t make it in haste just because we’re all anxious and bored with no live sports.

On the Topic Of the NHL in North Dakota

When you hear people talk about Ralph Engelstad Arena, you hear the chorus of how beautiful it is and how much it’s as good as or better than (in some cases) most NHL arenas. With a passionate fan base for the University of North Dakota, along with the tradition the program has; it’s easy to see why they would want to have such a top-notch facility for their student-athletes and be able to use that to bring in top talent.

Now, it could be time to see how it does shape up to the NHL standard.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman dropped some knowledge Sunday night that the NHL is looking at options if they should get their season back together in one way, shape, or form. One of the options has been Grand Forks, North Dakota and The Ralph. Friedman says that nothing is eminent, but it’s been floated around due to the facilities and the low population density that North Dakota does have in comparison to other states with rinks. Considering places like Toronto and Calgary say that they won’t have games in those cities until June 30th at the earliest; neutral site games are a must.

Logistically, however, could be an issues. While the Greater Grand Forks area (Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, MN) has about 30 hotels— not all of them are the nice, five-star places players may be used to and some hotels may not want to have a sharp influx of people from out of town given the climate of things. Of course, adding to that is the US/Canada border being closed for the time being, on top of the leagues voting how their season should go along and what format it needs to be in.

Not to mention, whether or not the state would be willing to take people in given North Dakota has a 14-day quarantine for incoming travelers, then to decide if there should be fans in the arena for the events given the pandemic, how you put first responders into the arena while taking away from the hospital in town and other red-tape that would be necessary to have this happen.

Personally, living here– it’d be a huge buzz for the area and something that people wouldn’t forget if it were to happen. Emphasis on “IF.” There’s no doubt that the facilities of The Ralph are beyond comparison in some instances and that it does have the ability to house a regional tournament should that be the case. And it’s not like they haven’t hosted NHL game before, albeit preseason games— but the area has houses many IIHF events with multiple nations represented with teams and with fan bases.

While I’m still of the opinion the NHL should shutter the season for the sanity of everyone and not to give people false hope only to diminish that hope later, this could be interesting overall. It’d give the local economy a boost with lodging and food and such, it’d give people something to look out for when it comes to sports in the area, and it’d being back some kind of normalcy to the landscape a whole.

Plus, if I can get in to cover some of these games– I’ll take it.

But you also have to think about the long-term venture over the short-term solution. If it all makes sense and things are trending properly– then by all means, go with North Dakota and other neutral sites. However, if the states are cautious to it and don’t want it to happen– you have to respect their decision to keep the interest of their residents the top priority over the allure of a tick of normalcy.

About That Gretzky/McDavid Thing

GQ’s Sports department did a thing where they have a “One on One” segment where they usually have a current player from a certain league and an entertainer that roots for that team or grew up in the area. Recently, they bucked that trend and had Connor McDavid and Wayne Gretzky on there to talk about Edmonton, being a hockey phenom, and Gretzky reassuring McDavid that he’s going to win a Stanley Cup.

It was probably the most…cringe, but interesting thing I’ve seen in a bit, but far from an “epic conversation” that GQ would have you believe.

A couple things here. Thing the first– this is the Gretzky we kind of need. Sure, the Great One was currying favor to McDavid– especially reassuring McDavid he’s going to win a Cup in Edmonton and all of that– but he was actually very talkative. Gretzky was lively, he was more than the corporate figurehead that the NHL trots out in special events, and he showed some kind of personality. So much so, it made McDavid look much more milquetoast than usual.

Now, thing the second– McDavid looked like he did want to be there. Not in an uninterested way, but in a way that he was too nervous and not comfortable with the limelight (much less being there with Gretzky) and didn’t know what he was supposed to do in a situation like this when they’re talking about the greatness and the link between Edmonton and the two superstars. It came off as McDavid sitting there anxiously waiting for it to be over while Gretzky was trying to reassure him that he’ll get the Oilers to a way like they were in the ’80s.

The premise of this is solid, but it’s also the first time that they’ve seemingly done an old star and new star. The other were more athlete and musician with Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers talking with Justin Vernon, lead singer from the band Bon Iver; RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks and Spike Lee; and Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat talking with Rick Ross. Those connections have more to do with the location of the team and a person growing up there. This kind of bucks that trend, which makes for…I don’t know what it made for.

If they did this format with Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby and Gretzky, it would have maybe been little less awkward and more conversational…maybe. However, the cliche machines of today’s hockey players seem to kill any kind of starting point with this.

Also, I hate this kind of format with an off-screen moderator doling out a subject and almost forcing these two to try and relate. It just seemed so forced. Not only that, but of what I’ve seen— this is the only one where they needed questions or subject matters thrown at them from off camera. No wonder this was shorter by about 15 minutes compared to the other ones; it was all around too forced.

Should be so inclined and have nothing better to do….maybe give it a watch and make your own opinion. This just seemed like it was very unnatural when there’s so many other options that you could have presented to make the hockey connection be better than just trotting out Gretzky and the next “Great One” in Edmonton.

Now Hear Me Out: Loser Moves On

We’re in some extreme times. The clock is ticking down on the NHL season for 2019-20, even though they’re really trying to keep a brave face considering they’re losing billions if they in fact do cancel. Especially with the postponement of the NHL Combines, Awards (NOT THOSE!!!), and the Draft; there’s some pretty crazy ideas out there about if the season were to be severely delayed– who could get the first overall pick; especially since if the league were to come back; they’d go right into the playoffs.

There’s one eager team that thinks there’s only one way to rightfully see who gets the top pick– a tournament. Basically the NIT of the NHL. Sure, seems unfair to fuck over Detroit and Ottawa of that possible pick– despite the assurances they’re allegedly going to get.

This is a good idea. I think we all like a one-and-done situation, where each game is Game Seven. However…NOW HEAR ME OUT…THE LOSER MOVES ON IN THE TOURNAMENT!!

Why would the team that wins this whole damn thing be in line for a lottery pick?? In fact, it actually proves the opposite because if they win that damn thing; they’re the team that needs the least help of a lottery pick. Of course, you have to think it’s a fringe team that proposed this in hopes of fleecing the league and other teams to bolster their line-up and really spit in the face of parity.

Yet, when you think of the whole “LOSER MOVES ON” thing, it makes sense because teams that lose need the better odds at a lottery pick. Plus, after this break, you think players really want to prolong the season they got paused for a meaningless tournament that they might not reap the benefits from.

“BUT WHAT ABOUT TANKING?!?!” You’re screaming because you’ve been couped up in the house too long. Well, if you believe that the hockey players mentality is that they want to win their last game of the year and, for contract-year players, show off their stuff and how they can excel in these games against lesser opponents…thus getting them more money on the open market. Plus, a return to their summer vacation over playing meaningless games.

Listen, if you’re going to have a tournament for the lottery picks, it needs to be limited to the six worst teams. The worst and second-worst will get byes and then face against the winners of the other games. It goes with the whole thing that a team can’t move up more than five spots. Give that hope to the sixth-worst team they could get the 2nd overall pick without the use of a lottery ball. That’s the only way in the scenario that a “winner-moves-on” idea works.

It’s chaos out there– so why not flip the script on tournaments and have the losers move forward for losing…like how the Draft is supposed to be weighted.

On the Topic Of Leagues Shutting Down

The SPHL is over. The ECHL is over. Given the CDC’s suggestion of two months being the earliest this dystopian, confined atmosphere can maybe move toward living normally again– we could probably see the AHL and possible NHL do the same thing.

For the lower minor leagues, it’s understandable with the uncertainty of the ever-changing guidelines in the face of this whole ordeal. Add that to players visas, travel of teams and players over the border, availability of arenas that they don’t own; it was a perfect storm for these leagues to get shuddered early.

ECHL players get their last paycheck today, which is on average $600 a payday. Players are obviously panicking for money like everyone else who has their places of business shut down or reduced hours. Teams are also going to have plenty of losses with home games being removed, thus lost revenues and all of that. It’s a bad time all around.

And in all honesty, I wouldn’t hate it if the NHL and AHL shut down for the year. Would it suck for no Cup to be awarded?? Absolutely. As a Caps fan, would it suck for Alex Ovechkin not getting 50 goals despite being so close?? Most definitely. But for the greater good and not to rush a season in a half in what amounts to a calendar year– losses should be cut and then move on from there as a people into the next season.

For the players and for the fans, it’s the best to end it now and not give false hope when there’s other things to be concerned with. It would give one less financial burden for fans to worry about, it wouldn’t rush the players back into an important game-state after a long layoff, and it would reset the clock with the Draft and then into free agency.

Like I’ve said prior, shit’s crazy right now. The hope and the hype is all over the place. Common sense fails all of us right now and while sports are a nice distraction from it all– the best way is to throw it all out and start anew in October. It’s not just the staying away from people portion, it’s the matter of money is going to be very tight and the last thing people need to worry about is paying for playoff tickets and the other items that come when you go to a game in an arena.

Step off the ledge, everyone; breathe, and let’s get back at ‘er sooner than later, but not too soon to set people back more.

Now Hear Me Out: NHL Playoffs…March Madness Style

The NHL is going through their pause with everything else on Earth. Now, the NBA said that they’ll be delayed at least 30 days, which you’d have to think the NHL would be in the same boat. That puts us into mid-April right when the playoffs were to start.

Most teams have played around 70 games, leaving 12 games or so to finish out the season. That puts us until about early to mid-May for playoffs. There’s really two options: play out the season and really delay the playoffs or end the season and start playoffs right then and there when the season comes back. The first option will have some complain that the season is too long and isn’t give player recovery time for next season. The second makes people who have teams in heavy playoff races mad because they could have gotten in with the last games of the season.

So, here me out– end the season as it is, but everyone makes the playoffs. The NHL does a March Madness style playoff. The first round will be a one-and-done game, the next rounds will be Best-of-Five until the Cup Final, which will be Best-of-Seven. Seed in the way of points percentage to balance it out better, with the top team getting a first round bye to make sure the brackets are even through the rest of the playoffs. Opening round– 2 vs. 31, 3 vs. 30 and so on to get the 15 winners, then reseed again as per usual.

We’re in pretty crazy times in the world, so why not make it a crazy playoff as well. Is it a bit unfair?? Sure, but it’s also a bit fun and unpredictable. Why not make this season a fun one and bring some hype to the game, while also not getting too far off the track on how things are done in the off-season and maybe ending the playoffs early to get players more rest going into next season.

Media Access, COVID-19, and You

We are all mind-numbingly aware of the COVID-19 virus (I’m only going to call it C-19 moving onward) and we know what it’s done to the social landscape of the world. Obviously, sports is put into this and has led to leagues shutting down their locker room access and even possibly playing in front of empty arenas (although the AHL already did that).

My opinion is good. While it’s probably an overreaction to what equates to a beefed-up pneumonia, you rather err on the side of caution rather than have to clean up the mess that comes from not taking the right moves in the first place. Playing catch-up is never fun, especially in a wide-spread illness.

But seeing media people hem and haul about the shutting down of locker rooms and access to players and give a vague threat to the leagues bascially saying, “This better be temporary,” makes me tilt my head. As someone who has pieces of laminated paper saying I’m part of the media, I’ve never once thought that locker room access is needed to have a good story. Hell, at the University of North Dakota games; all the interviews for the masses are done in a scrum style with two or three players and head coach Brad Berry. We all get our stories, we all move along. Brad Schlossman is one of the finest writers in hockey and he rarely gets the locker room access some of these reporters in sports get, but he’s still churning out bangers week after week.

Does that help with some stories and such?? Sure. Is it a necessity?? That’s a hard sell for me. Does it equate to better stories?? I’m sure it does. Ken Rosenthal thinks it does (subscription because innovation). To a point, it can be true because access and having a good standing with the players can lead to things down the line and becoming an insider. Also, the point that it’s making the media members look petty because they’re getting singled out and other groups aren’t.

But, when the Colorado Avalanche have a sign reminding media members not to hug players or sit at stalls seems more to me like writers are mad because they can’t be buddy-buddy with some players. There’s not many other entertainment industries that allow people to be as tight-knit as the sports community. It can be considered both awesome and invasive all in one.

If you’re a good reporter, you’ll find a way to get the story without having to make brunch plans with the top-line guys or deal with the stench of equipment by your nose when you sit down in one of their stalls. People’s story writing abilities aren’t tied to all-access approaches in locker room settings. Yes, it makes a story better…but there’s tons of people out there writing quality stuff without having a fraction of the access or really needing it– but they’re still getting respect from people who enjoy the content they put out– access or not.

If worst comes to worst– everyone is connected. If you have a good relationship with a player now and need access to the room without getting access to the room– you should have their number. Text them, call them, email them– if they’re really your buddy, they’ll find a way to make time for you either in-person or virtually. Does it tell the whole story you’re looking for?? No, because it doesn’t have those subtle nuances of a locker room…but it’s still better than no access at all.

And yet, the story the writers are really missing are the impact around the games. The fans who may have taken a vacation to see a game, but will have to wait because the game was shuddered down to fans. The impact this will have on local businesses on top of the impact of non-gameday happens with this panic. The workers inside the venues who are going to be losing money and might already be on a tight budget as it is.

But no, let’s talk about the locker rooms shutting down. Let’s talk about the lack of access being the reason some can’t create a good story. There’s stories to be had out there that don’t require direct player access. You just have to be good enough to find it.

Following the Yzer-Manifesto

There has to be a plan in place in Detroit, doesn’t there?? They were eliminated for what would seem eons ago and looked primed as the favorite for the top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft– should the lottery balls be in their favor.

But thus goes Steve Yzerman and what I can only assume is the plan he has called the Yzer-Manifesto.

With the talent they have offensively, the ability to score should be there with Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin, Filip Zadina, and the potential of Robby Fabbri are better than what they’ve put out there…at least some would hope. Maybe an addition here and there is needed, but it’s not much of an overhaul as it is developing together a bit more.

Yet, the biggest part of the Yzer-Manifesto should be working from the goal and work outward. Obviously Jimmy Howard isn’t the future of this team and Jonathan Bernier is the veteran back-up to move forward. There’s plenty of money to be had for the Red Wings, so the idea of bringing in Robin Lehner for big money and term isn’t the worst idea. Of course, Braden Holtby is out there– but his instability this season will make some shy away from signing him. Of course, this is all dependent upon how they feel Filip Larson is progressing or not to make a long-term offer to anyone.

Moving upward, building the defense around Moritz Seider– maybe not for 2020-21, but as a starting point for when Seider does get to the NHL full-time. Joe Hicketts will have his time to shine because he could be a now-or-never situation considering he’s wrapping up his fourth season in Grand Rapids.

The Red Wings are notorious for keeping their prospects down on the farm to really grow, but maybe a new point of the Yzer-Manifesto is to not let the prospects overripe in the AHL and give them a bigger stage to perform on. That could be a case for Seider and Jared McIssac to maybe break the cycle of prospects and only be in the AHL for a year, two years at most.

Defensively on the free agent market, the idea of Tyson Barrie is a nice one, especially in the cap crunch the Maple Leafs are in– though if it boosts up as much as they think it will– maybe that’ll be enough to get Barrie under the Leafs banner for years…but you never know in this crazy business.

It is just Steve Yzerman’s first year with a team who has been trending down for a few seasons. This being the rock bottom situation may allow him to sit back and write out his Yzer-Manifesto from atop the Little Caesars Arena, trying to make HockeyTown, USA a thing again and more than just a night for teams to start their back-up goalie against.